1 Miscellaneous Paper 9 WOMEN S ACCESS TO LEGAL ADVICE AND REPRESENTATION A consultation paper
2 The Law Commission The Law Commission is an independent advisory body, established by statute and funded by the taxpayer. Its main function is to undertake the systematic review, reform and development of the law of New Zealand. Its purpose is to help achieve law that is just, principled and accessible, and that reflects the heritage and aspirations of the peoples of New Zealand. The Law Commission s processes are essentially public, and are subject to the Official Information Act Thus copies of comments and submissions will normally be made available on request, and the Commission may mention them in its reports. Any request for the withholding of information on the grounds of confidentiality or for any other reason will be determined in accordance with the Official Information Act. Any personal information supplied in submissions will be used only for the purposes of the project on Women s Access to Justice and nothing the Commission publishes in respect of the project will identify any individual in any way. ISSN ISBN Law Commission Miscellaneous Paper 9 April 1997, Wellington, New Zealand
3 CONTENTS Page SOME WOMEN S EXPERIENCES...1 PART 1 INTRODUCTION...2 PART 2 WHAT WOMEN HAVE TOLD THE COMMISSION...5 Difficulties finding legal advice and representation...5 Fear of the cost of lawyers...5 Lack of information about the law...6 A lack of information about available legal advice and representation...6 Choosing an appropriate legal service provider...7 Distrust of lawyers and the law...7 Shortage of women lawyers...9 Shortage of Maori lawyers...9 Shortage of lawyers from Pacific Islands and other cultures...10 Shortage of non-english speaking lawyers...10 Physical access to legal services...11 Working with the legal service provider...13 PART 3 WHO IS PROVIDING LEGAL ADVICE AND REPRESENTATION?...16 Lawyers in private practice...17 Profile of lawyers...17 Membership of Law Societies...18 Training and registration...18 Regulation of lawyers...18 Advertising of services...18 Charges for services...19 Community law centres...19 Location of community law centres...20 Functions of community law centres...20 Staffing of community law centres...21 Funding of community law centres...21 Advertising of services...21 When and how legal services are provided...21 Cost of services to the public...22 Regulation of community law centres...22
4 Citizens Advice Bureaux...23 Location of Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB)...23 The service provided by CAB...23 Marketing...23 Cost to members of the public...24 Funding...24 Other advice providers...24 PART 4 CREATING CLIENT CHOICE...24 Information about providers of legal advice and representation...24 Community initiatives...25 New Zealand Law Society initiatives...26 District Law Societies initiatives...27 Lawyers advertising...29 A greater diversity of lawyers...30 Physical access to lawyers offices...32 Providing alternative legal advice and representation services...33 Telephone/facsimile/TTY legal advice...33 More community law centres...34 A greater diversity of legal advisers community workers...39 PART 5 IMPROVING COMMUNICATION...42 Communication skills...42 Cultural training...44 Gender training...44 CONCLUSION...44 BIBLIOGRAPHY...45
5 WOMEN S ACCESS TO JUSTICE: HE PUTANGA MO NGA WAHINE KI TE TIKA The scope of this project has been determined after extensive consultation with New Zealand women. At meetings and hui all around the country and in written and telephoned submissions, thousands of women have described to the Commission their experiences with the law and identified the ways in which their expectations or needs have and have not been met. It has been made clear that for a great many New Zealand women access to justice means ready access to quality legal services and procedures. That quality is measured to a significant extent by the responsiveness of legal services to clients social and economic situations and cultural backgrounds. The project team is focusing on four major areas in its report to the Minister of Justice which is due at the end of These areas are: access to legal information, the cost of legal services, access to legal representation and advice, and the education of lawyers. Three consultation papers have already been produced: Information About Lawyers Fees (NZLC MP3), Women s Access to Legal Information (NZLC MP4) and Women s Access to Civil Legal Aid (NZLC MP8). Research is now underway on several topics within the remaining areas and further consultation papers will be made available in the first half of These will include a paper presenting the findings of the consultation process with Maori women, and papers on Lawyers Costs in Family Law Disputes and Lawyers Education. This paper has been prepared by the project team for the purposes of consultation. The paper does not contain Law Commission policy nor does it necessarily reflect the views of the Law Commission. The Commissioner responsible for this project is Joanne Morris. Please contact Michelle Vaughan if you would like further information about the project Freephone , or write to Freepost 56452, Law Commission, PO Box 2590, Wellington.
7 SOME WOMEN S EXPERIENCES How do we choose a lawyer who will represent us well? We just don t know who is the right lawyer for us. I rang a lawyer for help and the secretary said she would get him to ring me. He didn t even bother to contact me. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 2 I think that if there are a lot more Pacific Island lawyers out there perhaps I would feel more comfortable. The difference is between telling secrets to a stranger and telling your secrets to somebody that you might feel comfortable with and I know that I would feel more comfortable with one of my own people/culture. Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women 11 The women felt that although lawyers may feel they are explaining things often the language is such that the women do not understand what is being said. This means they fail in some cases to be in a position to predict what the long term results of a decision will be. Sometimes they have agreed to arrangements without understanding what is inherent in that decision eg, guardianship rights. Sometimes lawyers assume a basic understanding of the law on the part of their client that just is not there. One woman said that after she had asked a question once and not understood the reply she felt too dumb to ask again. Submission 29 In some situations there has been a lack of recognition of the emotions women tend to express more openly than men and often feel more strongly. This is usually ridiculed, ignored or played down. Often this emotion is directly related to the stress the woman is feeling. This approach is unsatisfactory. There is also a lack of recognition given to the lack of confidence women feel when involved in a legal dispute and particularly when coming out of a failed relationship. Submission 58 A very upsetting process in marriage break-up is the often condescending attitude of the young lawyer often a woman who is appointed to cases through legal aid. Many women feel they are treated as simpletons and their comments and requests are often ignored. A common reply to women who related the behaviour of the male partner is often He is such a nice man, he wouldn t do that and the lawyer often becomes one more hurdle for the woman to deal with. While it is understood that there must be communication between lawyers of both parties many women feel a decision is often reached in the back room and the woman has no input into the outcome. Often the feeling is it is for the expediency of the lawyers concerned and not for the good of the family. Submission 257
8 2 PART 1 INTRODUCTION Barriers to ready access to justice can come in many forms. They include cost, cultural barriers, language difficulties, time delays, non-availability of information, and incomplete understanding between those providing legal services and their clients. If these barriers to access to the law and to resolution of disputes are not minimised, the overall framework of justice will come into disrepute, and so pose a significant threat to social cohesion. 1 1 The Commission s consultations on the subject of Women s Access to Justice attracted a large number of women whose experiences with the legal system led them to believe they had been unfairly treated by the law or its processes and agents. The great majority of the women who attended more than 100 hui and meetings held throughout New Zealand or made written and telephoned submissions to the Commission spoke about barriers they had experienced obtaining legal services appropriate to their needs. 2 This paper examines the barriers women experience when trying to obtain legal advice and representation. It focuses particularly on the lack of choice of legal services and shortcomings in the communication skills of those providing legal advice and representation, usually lawyers. 2 The criticisms voiced by women about their access to user-friendly legal services may seem to be at odds with the recently released New Zealand Law Society Poll of the Public. 3 That poll, conducted by telephone with a representative sample of 500 randomly selected members of the public, 250 women and 250 men, found that most had a very positive perception of the lawyers whose services they had engaged. In particular: 93% of the public agreed that their own lawyer was professional, 90% found their lawyer to be reliable, 84% said their lawyer understood their situation, 79% agreed that their lawyer explained things well and 89% agreed that their lawyer was competent in the job that they did (14 15). 3 The Poll of the Public reveals that the three most common matters for members of the public to consult lawyers about are property transactions, making a will and borrowing money/arranging finance (20). It also shows that only 4% of adult New Zealanders had ever consulted a lawyer in relation to family violence, 16% in matrimonial matters, 10% in custody and access matters, 4% as witnesses in criminal matters and 3% as defendants in criminal matters (20). The Poll of the Public, with 21% of its sample with a household income of less than $20 000, found that one third (32%) of New Zealanders mentioned that there had been a time when they could have used a lawyer s help but did not seek it (61). Cost was the major factor for those who chose not to use a lawyer, with 56% saying they did not consult a lawyer because of the cost (62). Cost was also more of an issue for women, with 66% of the women who chose not to consult a lawyer mentioning cost as a reason for not getting help, compared to 49% of men (62). 4 While the New Zealand Law Society Poll of the Public interviewed a representative sample of the New Zealand population, the far greater number of women who spoke to the Ministry of Justice Briefing Paper for the Minister of Justice (October 1996) 14. At the time this paper was published the Commission had received approximately 500 written and telephoned submissions in response to its call for submissions. Approximately 300 submissions were received from individual women and community groups and 200 from individual lawyers. Further comments were received from 60 Pacific Islands women in a Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women prepared for the Commission by Ida Malosi and Sandra Alofivae and from approximately 100 lesbians in a Report on Consultation with Lesbian Women prepared for the Commission by Strategic Legal Services. The Commission has also received further submissions on the consultation papers Information About Lawyers Fees (NZLC MP3), Women s Access to Legal Information (NZLC MP4) and Women s Access to Civil Legal Aid (NZLC MP8). The Law Commission has also held numerous meetings with lawyers in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Christchurch, Invercargill, Nelson, Wellington and Hastings, at District and New Zealand Law Society level and with members of the judiciary and government officials. Poll of the Public The New Zealand Law Society (MRL Research Group, Wellington, February 1997).
9 3 Commission did so because they had negative experiences of some aspect of the legal system. The great majority of the women told the Commission that resort to the legal system was, for them, a luxury which they would only contemplate in a crisis. As a result, the matters for which most had sought legal assistance arose from a family breakdown, when protection from family violence, the resolution of a custody and access dispute and/or a division of matrimonial or de facto property was required. Less commonly, women who spoke to the Commission had been involved with the legal system as a witness to or a defendant in criminal matters. 5 The over-representation in the Commission s consultation of women who had resorted to the legal system only in connection with family and criminal matters is consistent with the findings of a recent Canadian study: Many of the [legal] problems [women experience] have to do with their current or past relationships. Single-parent mothers, and some women who still live with their husbands, need legal assistance for family law matters such as separation or divorce, division of matrimonial property, child custody and access and support payments.... Women also need assistance as victims of crimes of violence The Canadian study also found that low income people, a group in which women are over-represented in New Zealand, 5 have a great but unmet need for civil law services. A major cause of this need is that many low income people are so badly informed that they do not know or believe they have any rights. 6 The Commission s consultations suggest that this problem also exists in New Zealand. While women described barriers to obtaining legal services in connection with particular types of matters that they could not avoid becoming involved in, family breakdown and criminal matters, the barriers described may also apply across a much broader range of legal matters where people are currently unaware that they have legal rights to protect and enforce. 7 A working definition of legal advice for the purpose of this paper is: law related information provided to a person that explains how the law and legal processes apply to that person s particular situation. Legal representation for the purposes of this paper means: advice to and advocacy on behalf of another person in a proceeding before a court or tribunal in which the person is a party. 8 Clearly both women and men experience barriers to obtaining legal advice and representation and for some of the same reasons. Yet women experience particular problems because of the effects of gender. The Australian Law Reform Commission defined gender as: A social construction [which] arises from the commonly held values, beliefs and perspectives of an identifiable group of people. It develops over time and becomes part of the culture of the group. Gender describes more than biological differences between men and women. It Legal Aid and the Poor A report by the National Council of Welfare (Canadian Government, Winter 1995) 12. Legal Aid and the Poor A report by the National Council of Welfare, 10. At the time of the 1991 Census half of the women in New Zealand earned less than $ (1996 $12 405) compared with men earning $ (1996 $21 167) (All About Women in New Zealand (Statistics New Zealand, Wellington, 1993), 109). The results form the 1996 are not yet available. Statistics New Zealand advises that from 1991 until the end of 1995, the Consumer Price Index moved upwards by 10.4%. However, income levels did not move upwards to that extent. A rough indication of the current value of the 1991 income dollar figures can be achieved by multiplying the 1991 figures by 10% as has been done for the bracketed figures. Legal Aid and the Poor A report by the National Council of Welfare, 15. The Poll of the Public acknowledges that it does not take into account the fact that there may be New Zealanders who had been in a situation where a lawyer could have helped but were not aware that this was the case (58).
10 4 includes the ways in which those differences, whether real or perceived, have been valued, used and relied upon to classify women and men and to assign roles and expectations to them. The significance of this is that the lives and experiences of women and men, including their experience of the legal system, occur within complex sets of differing social and cultural expectations. 7 9 Although the effects of gender unite to some degree the experiences of women as a group as they seek to obtain legal advice and representation services, their experiences can vary widely. Other social forces such as ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and disability all operate in distinct ways to affect access to legal advice and representation services. Throughout its consultation processes, the Commission has taken great care to speak with and listen to the concerns of New Zealand women in all their diversity. The effects of gender and other social forces upon women s search for legal services are clearly illustrated by what women have told the Commission. 10 Part 2 of the paper describes the barriers that women told the Commission prevented their access to legal services. Many of the problems relate to the difficulties women experience finding an appropriate lawyer in a legal system that is alien and often distrusted. Part 3 provides an overview of the main providers of legal advice and representation: lawyers, community law centres, and Citizens Advice Bureaux. Part 4 makes suggestions for improving women s choice of legal services and Part 5 makes suggestions for improving communication between women and their legal advisers. 11 This paper does not discuss in detail the cost of legal advice and representation. The effect of the cost of legal services is discussed in the consultation papers Information About Lawyers Fees and Women s Access to Civil Legal Aid, and in the forthcoming paper Lawyers Costs in Family Law Disputes. 12 This paper also does not directly address issues relating to the training of lawyers, which will be considered in a further paper, Lawyers Education, to be issued during May for comment. This paper is based upon the comments made to the Commission by thousands of New Zealand women users and potential users of legal services. The Commission would be very grateful for responses to those comments and/or answers to all or any of the questions asked in the paper about which you have particular knowledge, interest or views. Alternatively, we would be very grateful for a more general submission based on some of the ideas in this paper. Please return these responses to the Women s Access to Justice : He Putanga mo nga Wahine ki te Tika Project, Freepost 56452, Law Commission, PO Box 2590, Wellington. Alternatively, if you would like to make a submission by telephone, please call Michelle Vaughan toll-free on If you would like to make a submission by , please send it to We would like responses by Friday 6 June 1997, please. If you have problems meeting this deadline, please let us know. 7 Equality Before the Law (ALRC DP ) 1.
11 5 PART 2 WHAT WOMEN HAVE TOLD THE COMMISSION 13 Women have told the Commission in detail about the barriers they encounter obtaining and using legal services. The barriers occur in: finding legal advice and representation; choosing an appropriate legal service provider; and working with the legal service provider. 14 This part of the paper examines each stage of that process but it focuses upon women s choice of legal service providers and communication between women clients and those providers. The issues women have identified in finding legal advice and representation, while very important, are very similar to the difficulties they experience finding legal information; these were addressed in the paper Women s Access to Legal Information (NZLC MP4). Difficulties finding legal advice and representation 15 The main reasons identified by women as preventing them from finding legal advice and representation are: fear of the cost of lawyers; lack of information about the law; and lack of information about legal advice and representation. Fear of the cost of lawyers 16 As noted in the consultation paper on Women s Access to Civil Legal Aid (NZLC MP8) women, who are over-represented in part-time paid work and in occupations with low median incomes (eg clerical and service occupations), experience great difficulty affording legal services. Time and time again women described legal services as a luxury which would be foregone except in the most difficult situations of vital importance to them. The cost puts people off they think what s the use of going. Meeting with visually impaired women, Rotorua, 1996 [Cost] is a major problem boy oh boy is this the real problem. I won t go and see any lawyer because of the cost. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 3 Lawyers cost, what, $150 per hour? Even if I can find a job that pays $15 an hour it would take me ten hours to earn what I pay for one hour from a lawyer. That s ridiculous. Report on Consultation with Lesbian Women If you are on a benefit you have to think twice before you get a lawyer. Meeting with visually impaired women, Rotorua, 1996
12 6 Lack of information about the law 17 One of the strongest messages to emerge from the Commission s consultations with women is the lack of available and accessible information about the law. At meetings throughout New Zealand the Commission was told that women were very often unsure whether they had a legal problem and/or what type of legal problem it was. I don t know anyone who knows about the law or where to go. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 4 I didn t know where to get information to help me decide what to do with my daughter so I was forced to go and see a lawyer. I now know I could have gone to Social Welfare or CAB [Citizens Advice Bureaux] to get the info I needed to make a decision. I learned the expensive way. Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women 23 Women will not contact recognised places to clarify issues because they do not know what kind of questions to ask to elicit the right reply. Submission 29 A lack of information about available legal advice and representation A lot of the women we see don t know how to get lawyers to help them. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 3 I didn t know how to ring the Court or a lawyer because I couldn t find it in the phone book. For Doctors and Hospitals you look in the front. Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women 4 18 The Commission was also told that a common problem for women is not knowing how to find out where to obtain legal advice. While women are aware that lawyers provide legal advice, many had dismissed the idea of going to a lawyer in private practice because of the cost. For those women it was vitally important to know of the availability of other legal service providers. Yet in many parts of New Zealand lawyers in private practice are the only legal service providers. Even in areas where there are alternative services in the form of community law centres, knowledge of them is not widespread, especially amongst some groups of women. For example, visually impaired women in Wellington were unaware of the Wellington South Community Law Centre, hearing impaired women at a meeting in Palmerston North were unaware of the local Citizens Advice Bureau s free legal advice evening, and disabled women in Invercargill were not aware of the existence of the Southland Community Law Centre. 19 Some women who know of the existence of local Citizens Advice Bureaux and community law centres have reasons for not using their services, including the public nature of the act of approaching the agencies (especially for women attempting to leave violent relationships) and the distance required to travel to them.
13 7 In 1989 our relationship had deteriorated to such an extent that I urgently needed legal advice to protect myself and my assets... There was a major difficulty a small community where we were well known, and I wanted advice I could make decisions on, not inadvertently triggering a reaction that could impact on my life and well-being, nor that of our family. [X] the nearest city, was 100kms away and I needed another reason to be able to go there so my purpose was not revealed. I rang first the CAB who referred me to the Courthouse and from there I was given the names of five women solicitors who I could contact.... Finally I had a name, an appointment and with a family member in hospital a reason to visit [the city]. Submission Women often said they had to be very discreet when seeking legal advice for fear of reprisals should word get back to their partners. I found my lawyer through the yellow pages. As I sought legal advice before my exhusband and I separated I did not want to ask too many people that I knew about who they could suggest for me to talk to, so I found it easier to look in the phone book and be as discreet as I could be. Submission 47 Choosing an appropriate legal service provider 21 If information is obtained about providers of legal advice and representation, the next stage of the process for prospective clients is to choose a legal service provider. From the comments made by New Zealand women it seems that several factors operate to constrain that choice. The factors include: the intensely personal nature of family law related matters; many women s lack of confidence in both the legal system and in their own abilities to manage the processes and interactions which the legal system entails; a desire to be assisted by someone from the same culture; and a fear of discrimination due to sexual orientation. Many women told the Commission that if they could, they would choose to obtain legal services from someone who was similar to themselves in some important respect, such as their culture, sex or sexuality, and that having that choice would allay many of their fears about negotiating the alien terrain of the legal system. Distrust of lawyers and the law There was strong agreement that women lack confidence in the legal system itself. Submission From its consultations the Commission learned that for a disturbingly large number of women fear of lawyers and the law is a barrier to seeking legal advice and representation. This was especially so for women who were least likely to identify with the Pakeha male tradition of the
14 8 legal profession. Many women commented that they did not personally know any lawyers who they could approach. 23 At each of the 48 hui held with Maori women a distrust of lawyers and the law itself was evident. This will be discussed further in a paper presenting the findings of the consultation process with Maori women. The attitudes of lawyers to Maori women are terrible, to the point where Maori women are discriminated against Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 2 I feel that the justice system fails, irrespective of whether you are Maori or non- Maori Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 5 24 For some lesbians, fear of disclosing their sexual orientation to their lawyers, due to the uncertainty of knowing whether it was safe to do so, prevented them trusting heterosexual legal advisers. There s so much homophobia from lawyers Report on Consultation with Lesbian Women You know even things like after $7000 and heaps of visits the receptionist still wouldn t say hi to me. Report on Consultation with Lesbian Women You even have to think about whether you will come out it s not just like you re going in for this legal service delivery stuff you ve got this added thing that you re thinking as well. Report on Consultation with Lesbian Women 25 Some refugee and migrant women said that they would not even consider approaching lawyers for help because in their home countries it was not safe to visit lawyers due to the corruption of the legal system. These women were not aware that the New Zealand legal system does not operate in the same way. 26 A theme of the Commission s consultations with Pacific Islands women was that they would shy away from seeking legal assistance because of the shame and humiliation of having to disclose intimate details to a complete stranger. 8 It was disconcerting to learn that many Pacific Islands women s perception of the law is that its main purpose is to punish people by deporting or imprisoning them. 8 Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women, 11.
15 9 Shortage of women lawyers The way I was feeling at the time I felt I wanted a female lawyer as she would be more supportive of me. Submission At every meeting around New Zealand there were women who told the Commission that they prefer to seek legal advice from a woman lawyer whenever personal matters are central to their legal problems. However, many women who expressed that preference had been unable to engage a woman lawyer for such matters, either because of the shortage of women lawyers in their area or a lack of information about how to contact a woman lawyer. Shortage of Maori lawyers It s horrible to say, but it is terrible communicating with Pakeha. The power goes to their heads and leaves their heart. The culture of Pakeha is not sensitive to our cultural ways. If someone would just try to understand our ways. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 3 28 At each of the 48 meetings held with Maori women there was a call for more Maori and, in particular, Maori women, lawyers. Only a Maori can understand what Maori go through. We need to connect with another Maori woman, this is really important for us. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 2 We need more Maori women lawyers... Someone who can understand where we come from as Maori. Someone who we do not have to explain ourselves to. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 1 We have not one Maori male or woman lawyer who we can turn to and who will understand us as Maori first. We badly need more Maori lawyers in our area. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 4 29 Maori women also spoke of the difficulty dealing with lawyers who were unable to meet their cultural needs. They are not even trained to look after Maori clients. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 5
16 10 We need [Maori lawyers] because of the cultural barriers that exist between us and the Pakeha lawyers in town. If we had more Maori lawyers it would be much easier for us women to approach them because they know of our culture. So it would be much easier for us to speak more comfortably if we had Maori lawyers... Our elders find it more comfortable talking to a person who is Maori. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 7 Shortage of lawyers from Pacific Islands and other cultures 30 In the Commission s consultations with Pacific Islands women, many spoke of their frustration and sadness at not being able to find a lawyer who could understand their cultural needs. [A]nd for me to talk about the personal things that have happened in my life was really hard. PI women don t talk openly like that to Palagi people. We are too shame. Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women 11 I was too ashamed to ask the lawyer to explain things. I was worried that the lawyer would think that I was just a dumb Samoan. Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women 4 And I think that if there [were] a lot more PI lawyers out there perhaps I would feel more comfortable. Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women 18. When I wanted to go to Court about my kids I wanted to find me a Tongan lawyer but I didn t know where to [go]. Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women 7 31 As well as preferring a lawyer of the same culture, again women lawyers were preferred by many Pacific Islands women. It would be a Pacific Island woman that I would feel more comfortable with. Some things you can t talk to a man about not even your husband. Report on Consultation with Pacific Island Women 10 Shortage of non-english speaking lawyers 32 Women from minority linguistic backgrounds spoke of their acute difficulties seeking legal advice and of their need for interpreters. The women said that it is often incorrectly assumed by lawyers that a family member can and should interpret but, especially when the matter is personal, this can be highly inappropriate.
17 11 33 Deaf women have told the Commission about their need for interpreters and lawyers who can use New Zealand sign language. 9 Again the women said they have been forced to rely on family members to interpret in cases where that was not appropriate. What lawyers are available for deaf people? The lawyer had no sympathy or empathy for this woman. I told the lawyer that I was not an interpreter and this was ignored. Who helps this person? No-one was available to interpret for her. No-one is available to interpret to our people who are deaf. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 12 Physical access to legal services 34 Physically getting to services constrains the choice of many women who need legal services, especially for women who live in remote areas, are not able-bodied, or are responsible for children. A lot of women are isolated because they have no vehicle, phone or transport. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 1 There are no resident lawyers on the [Chatham] [I]slands nor is there any access to a law centre to obtain advice and information. Submission Rural women invariably spoke of difficulties obtaining legal advice. Women living in some of the smaller settlements have had to travel well away from their local areas to obtain legal advice. In some cases rural women have had to travel to receive legal advice because their male partners business connections in the area meant that local lawyers were unwilling to act on their behalf. This situation was not confined to smaller centres: a number of women living in cities told the Commission that their partners business connections meant local lawyers were not willing to act for them. 36 For women living in the suburbs of larger cities geography also poses problems. Legal offices are generally situated in the central city area or in more affluent suburbs. Travel costs may create difficulties and further constrain choice, especially if there is limited public transport available. Nine times out of ten people just can t afford the fares to travel. It s too expensive. When you weigh the fare up against the kids bread on the table there is no choice. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe 1 9 Meeting with Deaf women, Palmerston North, 1996.
18 12 37 Women in prison also described their problems accessing legal advice and representation. Access to a lawyer in prison is difficult. I am in the maximum security wing which means I am unable to use the telephone myself to contact my lawyer. I must rely on staff to do this and often by the time they are able to do this my lawyer is already in court for the day. My lawyer is reluctant to come out to the prison and will only talk to me on the telephone about any problems I may have. Submission Women who provide care for others consistently described to the Commission the difficulties they must overcome in order to attend legal offices and the courts. Women as caregivers are often tied by the needs of those in their care as well as by their budgets to their home and more immediate environment. The prospect of attending a lawyer s office which is not equipped to provide care for children is a powerful deterrent, especially as the children may then hear what is going on. But even if there is childcare provided in lawyers offices, women said that the difficulty and expense involved in bringing children to any appointment, or series of appointments, could make attendance impossible. Women who were unable to arrange alternative care for children or other dependents told the Commission that they could not pursue legal advice and representation. 39 In many of the submissions received from lawyers it was made clear that there are often not adequate facilities for children in law offices and that home visits are not made as a matter of common practice.... the only time that he could find to give appointments was at 7.30am in the morning and [I] had a pre-schooler and 2 school age children. Now you can imagine to get to a lawyer s office by 7.30am you ve got to get the children up an hour early get them all dressed and washed you ve got to either take the toddler to a friend or bring a friend. I had to call on a friend to mind the children and then someone else to get them off to school. Submission 65 A city lawyer was confident a particular woman client could have made a successful claim which would have been very worthwhile financially. However, the woman abandoned the claim when she was made aware of the number of times she would likely have to travel into the city from the outer suburbs to attend appointments with the lawyer and others: it was impossible for her to obtain childcare during the times she would need to be away from home. Submission 8
19 13 Working with the legal service provider 40 The focus of this section is on the problems women have working with their lawyers. The customer service issues which women have identified as deterring them from proceeding with their legal matters are related to a failure of communication in the broadest sense. That failure seems to stem from many lawyers lack of awareness of the general impact of women s socio-economic position upon individual women s interactions with the legal system and lawyers. This lack of awareness then affects all aspects of the communications between lawyers and women clients leading, for example, to assumptions being made by lawyers about women s familiarity with legal matters, about the way in which women should express themselves, and about the priority to be accorded to women s concerns. It is notable that most women spoke of their experiences with lawyers in private practice. The women who had used community law centre services were generally not critical of the skills of law centre staff. 41 An all too common example of lawyers lack of awareness of women s lives was of lawyers failing to respond appropriately to women who were seeking protection from violent partners. Some women reported being told by their lawyers that they were vengeful in their efforts to protect themselves and their children from abusive partners. [L]awyers have some idea that we make up tales of abuse for revenge, anyone who thinks that has never been a single parent, if you thought your kids would be safe you d be more than happy to let their dad have access just to get a break, some time alone. Submission 267 After being told I was over-emotional not trying to understand my husband s needs, not thinking that the children might want to be with their (violent) father, did not need a non-molestation order, was not necessary to get an interim custody order (even after the children had to be put in a safe house as they were all on his current passport) and he had tried to lift them twice all I needed was counselling!! I became very angry and very desperate. I could not change lawyers even though I was quite frightened and intimidated by him. He was and still is a very well respected and liked lawyer I believe. Submission Women also told how their descriptions of their lives have been disbelieved or ignored by their lawyers. One woman told her lawyer that her partner kept a knife under the bed yet was not asked whether her husband was violent towards her (Submission 388). I had no help from anyone. I didn t know who was a good lawyer or anything. I said I want a non-molestation from yesterday, I want a non-molestation order urgently. The lawyer didn t do that, she didn t listen to me. She put it through the normal channels and I didn t get my order in the end. Transcript of hui held with Maori women in Rohe It was common too for women to say that they felt forced by their lawyers to behave in a particular way that was at odds with their nature or situation.
20 14 If you re assertive you are deemed to be too controlling or aggressive. We are expected not to complain. If you get stressed they often believe you can t control yourself and they use that against you in your case. Submission 267 In my experience women seem to be penalised by the current legal system on two counts. On one hand for any display of emotion and on the other because there is no legal channel for so-called emotional issues. I am warned that an emotional outburst in the presence of a judge could cost me my case. Because one speaks with tears in one s eyes, anger in one s voice and pain in one s words does this mean that what is being spoken is invalid? There are male lawyers who do not appear to be able to hear what is being said by a woman client unless she manages to be cool and rational. They seem to switch off and ignore what she is saying because of the way she is saying it. Therefore she feels herself failed by the very person who is there to be her advocate. He might well box on regardless and achieve a satisfactory end solution. How this is achieved is an academic issue for him. For his female client it is possibly a moral one and not unrelated to her personal integrity which includes honouring her emotional equilibrium. Submission While many women said that they resented having their emotions treated as irrelevant and quite separate from their often intensely personal problems, lawyers have indicated that dealing with clients emotions is not their responsibility and that emotions are quite irrelevant to legal matters. [Women] expect you to be in a role of a counsellor as well as legal adviser. They will not keep to relevant details for the ex-parte applications and therefore you use too much time in the consultations. Submission 200 (lawyer) Sometimes [women] clients require more empathy and compassion than budgetary restraints allow. I am there as a lawyer and it is a waste of resources to be used as a counsellor/shoulder to cry on. Submission 84 (lawyer) Women clients often want a friend/counsellor rather than a lawyer hard sometimes to keep them on track.... while you might empathise there are other professionals/avenues for counselling. Submission 95 (lawyer) [As a woman lawyer] I am expected to have more empathy, more compassion and to charge less. Submission 310 (lawyer). 45 Despite lawyers attitude that clients emotions are not their business, lawyers submissions indicate that referrals to relevant support services are not common practice. Women at many of the meetings said that they did not expect lawyers to be social workers but that they would benefit from lawyers referring them to appropriate services. 46 Many women also told the Commission that when they finally found a lawyer, they could not understand the information they were given. For some, the experience was so distressing they did not return.